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Pathways to Discovery: Winter 2014

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Catching up with Comer

Since opening its doors in 1967, the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital has provided comprehensive, innovative medical care to children of all social and economic backgrounds. That mission will continue with the opening of the meta-iodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) room in 2014, the first of its kind in Chicago, for the treatment of nerve tissue tumors in infants and young children, called neuroblastoma. 131I-MIBG is a chemical that is selectively absorbed by neuroblastoma cells, which are then destroyed by the emitted radiation.  Patients will stay in the lead-lined room for three to five days after receiving treatment to allow for recuperation and the radiation dose to wear off.

“131I-MIBG is the most effective treatment for children with relapsed neuroblastoma and because of this excellent anti-neuroblastoma activity, it is now being tested in clinical trials in newly diagnosed patients,” said Susan Cohn, MD, professor of pediatrics and director, clinical research, section of pediatric hematology/oncology. “Currently, patients in our region of the country need to travel to distant states to receive this treatment. Being able to deliver this effective treatment at Comer will greatly enhance our ability to care for children with neuroblastoma right at home.”

Comer recently became the recipient of a very big gift for very little people. The family behind the iconic Weber grill donated $10 million to support neonatal care at Comer. The pledge, made by the Stephen family of Weber-Stephen Products, was announced in September at a neonatology reunion of former patients, their families, and the staff members who cared for them. In recognition of the Stephen’s support, the neonatology center was renamed the Margaret M. and George A. Stephen Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The gift, among the Chicago area’s largest earmarked for neonatal care, will support research toward advancements in treatments for critically ill and premature newborns, along with genetic studies to uncover links to early childhood diseases. The donation also enables the future recruitment of a Stephen Family Professor of Pediatrics. The Stephen NICU is the largest facility of its kind in the Midwest and admits about 1,000 babies annually.

A recent addition to Comer is an internationally recognized authority on pediatric surgical oncology. In August, Jessica Kandel, MD, joined the hospital as section chief of pediatric surgery, professor of surgery, and surgeon-in-chief of Comer. She has developed groundbreaking clinical treatments for vascular anomalies in children, while her research in angiogenesis has contributed to the development of an FDA-approved drug now widely used in the treatment of lung, breast, and certain brain and pediatric cancers.

If you happen to be walking the halls of the first floor of Comer and look down on the ground, you may think you’ve stepped into the Field Museum by accident. Footprints lead the way to a life-sized cast of Dawn the dinosaur. Discovered in the foothills of the Andes by University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno and his team in 1988, Dawn is a member of the Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis species which walked the Earth more than 230 million years ago. Small in stature but big on bite, Dawn is now a permanent fixture at Comer thanks to a donation from University of Chicago graduate and longtime supporter Nicholas Pritzker.

Mark your calendars for the next University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital RBC Race for the Kids 5K Run/Walk, Kids' Dash and Kids' Mile on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. This year, 1,700 participants helped raise more than $300,000 to support the research efforts of University of Chicago medical students and research fellows, whose discoveries could lead to breakthroughs in pediatric care around the world.

The Comer Name in Lights
Little patients get top billing in a sunny, mul­timedia ad campaign heralding the innovative care at Comer. Designed by the Toky agency, the “Brighter Futures” series of radio, print, transit, and on­line ads debuted in September and ran through December. Among the models: Atia, a leukemia survivor; and Yano, a cancer survivor.

Each print ad features a child’s portrait, the Comer logo, and the tagline “Inventing the Future of Kids’ Medicine.” Two 60-second radio spots feature kids singing “This Little Light of Mine” and discussing their futures (“When I grow up, I’m going to be a fireman.”)

The ads build on four brand promises which establish Comer, ranked among the nation’s top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, as a leader in pediatric medicine in Chicago. The promises are:
• Ready to meet the greatest challenges
• The best minds in medicine and science
• Creating a culture of collaboration
• Committed to delivering compassionate patient care

The campaign targeted consumers in Greater Chicago, Northwest Indiana, and Southwest Michigan.


Ernst Lengyel